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Day 7: Meet Me in the Middle

Comments from the Kitchen Office

Do you dip your French fries in ice cream?

Personally, I do not. But I understand the appeal. The collision of salty and sweet. The crunch of the potato, balanced by the smooth creaminess of ice cream. It’s a killer combination.

Magic happens at the intersections of life, especially where they serve food.

Take Spaghettini, the first stop on day 7 of our Los Angeles Raves & Faves tour. Located just meters from the junction of the 405, 605 and 22 freeways, this Italian grill is a ‘destination location,’ according to co-owner Cary Hardwick.

‘If you look on a map, and locate the center of Southern California, you’ll find Spaghettini,’ says Hardwick.
Every day, Hardwick and co-owner Laurie Sisneros entertain visitors from both the immediate area and hours away, many using Spaghettini as a midway meeting spot when coming from different directions.

What’s interesting is that Hardwick and Sisneros had originally intended to open individual establishments—a rotisserie grill and an Italian eatery.

‘We had previously worked together at chains and were going to do our own concepts, so we thought, ‘why not marry them together?'’ says Hardwick.

The result is a taste of Tuscany, with real meats and vegetables in authentic dishes that are both simple and seasonal. Balance is key in dishes such as Salmon Picatta (pictured above), paired with sautéed spinach, artichoke hearts, and crispy fried onions, and Harris Ranch Natural Short Ribs, served over corn risotto and baby mixed carrots, with a sweet chipotle sauce.

Try Spaghettini on a Sunday morning or Wednesday through Sunday nights, and you’ll experience a collision of a different sort—the infusion of live jazz into the dining experience. House band DW3 shares the stage with some of the leading performers in the jazz world.

How do they attract such eminent musicians? Good food and wine, according to Hardwick. ‘Pancho Sanchez loves our New Zealand Lamb Chops (pictured right), and we feed him well.’

The energy during the Smooth Jazz Sunday Brunch, co-hosted by 94.7 The Wave for more than 10 years, is unbelievable. A concert in the performance lounge, antipasti buffet with more than 80 fresh and vibrant items mid-restaurant, and families dining by the fireplace in the library—all running simultaneously.

‘Spaghettini is a one-stop-shop for incredible food and legendary live jazz, all in one place,’ says Sisneros.
Adds Hardwick, ‘the jazz is what has taken us from a really nice local restaurant to a regional Southern California destination.’

Further south in Laguna Beach, where the Pacific Coast Highway meets a charming brick alleyway called Peppertree Lane, sits Watermarc.

The atmosphere is a juxtaposition of old and new, architecture and environment. The building is a historic landmark, with both timeless brick and modern décor influences. The outdoors seamlessly flow into the restaurant through windows that fold out for open-air seating and a pepper tree that grows up the side of the building, shading the intimate tables on the upstairs veranda.

Thoroughly modern is Watermarc’s Enomatic wine system, built into the wall behind the bar. Executive Chef/Owner Marc Cohen describes it as a ‘gumball machine for adults; they just want to see you push the button and the wine pour.’

Concepts from the past meet modern influences on the menu at Watermarc. A diverse collection of American classics reinvented by Cohen—the grazing plates and desserts are especially perfect for sampling!

‘I take old ideas that people are comfortable with and give them new presentation,’ says Cohen. ‘Sometimes you just have to change the hair color. Nothing’s wrong with the package, it just needs to be wrapped differently.’

He gives the Filet Three Ways (pictured left) as an example. Filet is a familiar dish, but serving it in three different styles—Oscar, with lump crab, asparagus and béarnaise; Wellington, with mushroom duxelle and puff pastry; and Diane, with peppercorn and brandy—gives people the opportunity to try something new while staying within their comfort zone.

As if people could resist when they see one of Cohen’s creations—a hybrid between a plate of food and piece of art.

‘My father was an artist; for me, it comes out on the plate,’ says Cohen.

The marriage between food and art is also visible on the Watermarc walls where famous artists and sculptors are pictured in their studios. Thoughtful and inspired, the pieces perfectly complement the chef and his food.

‘We serve formal fare in an informal atmosphere. Food can be 5-star, but people still want to have fun.’

The thing about an intersection of any kind is that it forces you to stop. Not thrilling in 10 lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic. But incredibly rewarding if you happen to find yourself at Spaghettini or Watermarc.

_Stop by more amazing food spots as we move through Los Angeles this week, visiting restaurants on our Los Angeles Restaurant tour, sponsored by U.S. Foodservice. You can follow the tour on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/foodchannel or Facebook.

Read more from our tour:

Raves & Faves/L.A. Day 1 – Food That Sticks to You

Raves & Faves/L.A. Day 2 – Passion, Pride & Pleasure

Raves & Faves/L.A. Day 3 – Getting to Know You

Raves & Faves/L.A. Day 4 – Like Grandma & Grandpa Used to Make

Raves & Faves/L.A. Day 5 – Try It. You’ll Like It

Raves & Faves/L.A. Day 6 – Simple Pleasures, Quality Ingredients